The Panthers have been very successful drafting and developing their own players on both sides of the ball during GM Marty Hurney's tenure behind the helm. The projected 2009 starting lineup contains seven possible Panther draft picks on defense and nine on offense.
For the Panthers to succeed in 2009, and put the dreadful end of 2008 behind them, they will need their young, talented reserves to step up and live up to their drafting. There are positions to be won on this team for those that want them.
Dwayne Jarrett - Wide Receiver - USC
Jarrett was a potential first round pick who slid to the Panthers in the second round in 2007. He came into camp with high expectations from fans and coaches alike. Needless to say, his 16 catches over two years haven't exactly set the world on fire. He was rumored to prefer hitting the clubs instead of the playbook, had an embarrassing DUI, and was publicly called out by team mate Steve Smith.
There is reason to be hopeful. Jarrett only saw nine games in 2008, and being the third option on a run first team limited his opportunities, but he showed a dedication that had been absent in his rookie season. John Fox praised his new work ethic. He caught everything thrown near him in 2008, including one amazing, crucial catch in the regular season meeting with Arizona. Muhsin Muhammad can't outpace father time forever, and season No. 3 is typically when wide receivers blossom.
Heading into 2009, he's still in a battle with Ryne Robinson, Jason Carter, and possibly Mike Goodson for the No. 3 wide receiver role. However, he has the inside track to the spot, possessing the ideal size and strength to excel in a run first offense.
Gary Barnidge - Tight End - Louisville
Barnidge didn't catch a single ball in 2008 and was only thrown to once. After the Panthers running game kicked into high gear, it was difficult for him to see the field ahead of human road grader Jeff King. In 2009, he's poised himself to become the Panthers' next Wesley Walls.
At 6'5", he's the Panthers' tallest tight end, and with a 4.65 seconds 40 yard dash time, he's by far the fastest. In his senior year at Louisville, he caught 53 passes, and in 2007 he averaged 16.5 yards a catch. Offensive Coordinator Jeff Davidons was a former tight ends coach under Bill Belichick, and Barnidge is far and away his best pass catching prospect. Jeff King excels as a run blocker, and Dante Rosario followed up his amazing catch in week one against San Diego by vanishing for the rest of the year.
Nothing is set in stone, but the position is wide open, and Barnidge impressed all observers at the Panthers' recent mini camp.
Charles Johnson - Defensive End - Georgia
Johnson arguably broke out in 2008, recording six sacks, 25 tackles, and 7 passes defended while replacing Tyler Brayton on passing downs. Also, the drafting of Florida State defensive end Everette Brown wouldn't suggest increased playing time for Johnson.
However, the Julius Peppers situation has thrust the entire defensive line rotation into flux. The hiring of Ron Meeks, formerly the defensive coordinator for the Indianapolis Colts, suggests they might make a transition to faster, quicker ends, giving Johnson the edge against Brayton in a competition.
Ryne Robinson - Wide Receiver - Miami (Ohio)
Robinson missed all of 2008 with a knee injury, so he didn't have a chance to build on his promising end to 2007. Truth be told, he's probably not going to compete for wide receiver. However, the punt returner position is wide open.
By the end of 2007, Ryne Robinson finally seemed to understand what he needed to do, and the results showed. He averaged 10 yards a return against Tampa Bay in week 17, 21 the week before against the Cowboys, and 9 against the Seahawks in week 16.
Mark Jones, 2008's returner, left for Tennessee, and his main competition is the unfortunately named, ludicrously fast Larry Beavers out of Wesley College. However, Robinson is the veteran, and he'll have the inside track to the position.
Tony Fiammetta - Full Back - Syracuse
Fiammetta has the unfortunate distinction of staring up on the depth chart at one of the most beloved Panthers of all time—Brad Hoover. However, North Carolina native Hoover is 32-years-old, and the writing is on the wall.
Fiammetta faces arguably the toughest challenge. There clearly wasn't anything wrong with any facet of the Panther running game in 2008. Brad Hoover is considered family to much of the Panther fan base. However, he may be too talented to keep off the field, and when he does get his chance, linebackers should watch out unless they want to end up on Jack'd Up.
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